By Marc L. Nash
What can make it easier for teachers to understand and relate positively to culturally diverse learners?
Teachers need to inform themselves of multicultural education and implement its components in their curricula in order to reach culturally diverse students.

One of the major themes in the Ethnic Heritage Studies program in most four year universities is the emphasis on change in education for the future. Teachers who are White, Anglo-Saxon, and middle-class are likely to have little real knowledge about ethnic minorities; they can, however, learn to appreciate and assign positive values to ethnic or cultural differences such as skin color, eye shape, hair texture, learning patterns, or linguistic characteristics. These differences, minor as they may seem to some people, have served as major roadblocks to a truly equal education. These ethnic and cultural differences are viewed by most middle-class teachers as having no value. Because of their lack of awareness, these teachers tend to restrict the effective education of culturally diverse students. Many teachers in the past have not cared about human interaction, and much less about multicultural exchange in the classroom. Because of this indifference, many students suffered educationally and socially; they did not share opportunities, privileges and facilities on an equal basis.

It has been forty years since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place in public education. This country has awakened slowly from the nightmare of segregation to a new and different demand for a good education for its wide variety of students. Brown Vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas created a climate where the idea of cultural pluralism could emerge. Shortly after the Brown decision of 1954, a small group of articulate educators started the push for multicultural/multiethnic education in the United States schools. This country has moved to equalize educational opportunities for the traditionally disenfranchised: African American, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, as well as the more recent immigrants (Cummins, 1989).

A mandate from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in January, 1979, requires that pre-service teachers should have knowledge of and experience with culturally and ethnically different students. NCATE's standards for judging the overall quality of an institution include attention to multicultural education. These institutions that receive NCATE's accreditation in the nineties will have strong multicultural education components as part of their teacher education curricula (Cummins).

Children come to school with a diversity of languages, cultures, and traditions that affect their school performance. Just as we should know as much as possible about students' learning styles and prior academic experiences, we have to take into account language and cultural differences and consider how such differences may affect students' interactions. Multiethnic and multicultural education is the key to an open society, a place where people can share and exchange cultural views, and live more at peace with each other

other. This idea is nothing new; in 1916, John Dewey, a noted American educator-philosopher, shared his vision:

I wish our teaching of American history in the schools would take more account of the great waves of migration by which our land for over three centuries has been continuously built up, and make every pupil conscious of the rich breadth of our national make up. When every pupil recognizes all the factors which have gone into our being, he will continue to prize and reverence that coming from his own past, but he will think of it as honored in being simply one factor in forming a whole, nobler and finer than itself (Moody, 55).

Culture has been defined as "the learned, shared, and transmitted social activities of a group, the human-made part of the environment that satisfies all basic needs for survival and adaption to the environment (Bennett, 7). All cultures share a number of characteristics: a language as a means for communication; a social structure; an economic system; a political system or form of government; a religious system,- aesthetic expression (art, music, architecture, costuming, etc...); scientific knowledge and technology; protection against invasion; and enculturation (ways of teaching the accepted standards of the culture).

Children's culture influence their way of perceiving, evaluating, behaving, and doing. It affects the way of their speech and interaction with others, their life styles and values, and their school performance.

The term "culturally diverse" includes native-born Americans such as American Indians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, as well as immigrants such as the Southeast Asians and migrant workers from Mexico. Previously, the "children of color" (Blacks, Hispanics, Amerindians, or any group with darker than white skin pigmentation) were unable to disappear into the "melting pot." Instead, many people of color opted for cultural pluralism, working to maintain separate identities, tradition and values within the larger society. Adopting cultural pluralism allowed them to maintain their unique identity while still accepting some attributes of the macro-culture (the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture). Cultural pluralism is not just a series of activities (powwows, dances, dress, or fiestas), but a group and individual identity consisting of basic values, choice of role models, and a collaborative view of society as a whole.

Unfortunately, cultural pluralism has not been completely accepted in our society. The combination of micro and macro cultures has sometimes led to dissension and distrust. At various times in our history, specific cultural groups have been seen as less desirable, less intelligent or less valued because of their difference from the dominant culture. The students who do not assimilate into the macro culture often receive the message that "you are poor, unwashed, unmanageable" (Strong, 2). Judgments about students' abilities, potential, or even interests are sometimes made on the basis of cultural differences.

Teachers sometimes find it difficult to modify their attitudes toward multicultural children. Too many culturally diverse students are considered slow and difficult to teach. These expectations of inferiority are often passed on to the students, who, by their behavior

behavior, turn the expectations into self-fulfilling prophecies. If a teacher labels a student as a low achiever, less is expected and demanded from the student. If the teacher perceives a student to be high achiever, more is expected and demanded from the student. This view of s student's "expected performance" is communicated to the student by verbal and nonverbal behaviors. The teacher's behavior toward a low achiever include giving general and often insincere praise; providing less feedback; interrupting them more often; seating them farther away from the teacher; paying less attention to them; calling on them less often; criticizing them more often; and smiling at them less. But children who are perceived as high achievers, on the other hand, are given more opportunities to respond; asked higher level questions; receive more praise and detailed feedback; given extra help if having difficulty; allowed more time to respond to questions; and are provided supportive communications (active listening, physical closeness, courtesy, compliments, etc...). These students perform at the level expected of them by the teacher. Research has indicated that in classes in which teachers held higher expectations for ALL students, higher general performance resulted (Good, 1981).

In contrast to historical and political contexts of the past, and a sharp change to older ideas, cultural democracy emphasizes the right of American children to preserve ties with their home community (cultural plurality). Specifically, cultural democracy in education based on the newest philosophy--the humanistic approach, which is primarily concerned with the dignity of each student and their personal needs. This multicultural democracy in education recognizes that, prior to entering school, children are subjected to many years of culturally distinct socializing influences. Much of a child's identity and his orientation to the world is based on these experiences (Moody, 1977).

One way we can prepare all students for a pluralistic or culturally diverse society is through multicultural education. Multicultural education is designed to promote and value the diversity of cultures and traditions in our country, while helping students to see the commonalities in all groups. In a positive multicultural environment, teachers expect all students to achieve, regardless of race, sex, class, or ethnicity. All instructional material is reviewed for biases or stereotypes. The curriculum includes the historical experiences of all cultures.

In multicultural education, teachers and students are made to develop an understanding of, and appreciation and respect for all cultures. Time in a multicultural class is spent dispelling misconceptions, stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination--so that students are made aware that the United States has a long history of racism against minority groups. The multicultural class has bulletin boards and classroom exhibits displaying people of many backgrounds. In addition to the above, the following ideas are also helpful: The teacher should review students' files extensively to make sure of the students' educational experiences. The educator is encouraged to make and maintain contact with parents--some parents may be reluctant to contact the schools because of their limited English proficiency. Others may view American schools as a threat to their native tongue or their culture, or their authority as parents. Whenever possible, teachers should share information and provide positive role models from diverse cultures, with an emphasis on those cultures represented in the classroom. Parent presentations, studies of

the contributions of varied groups, selection of music, celebrations, and games from non-Western or non-Anglicized lands all send a message that all cultures are important and equal (Strong).

It should be clear by now that the techniques suggested for multicultural education will benefit all students as well as the instructor. Positive expectations, much patience, attention to individual experiences, and the valuing of diversity should be part of any classroom. The attitudes and values shaped in a multicultural classroom can prepare the students to live and work in an increasingly diverse society.

I am a strong supporter of multicultural education and its implications for the classroom. Multicultural awareness for everyone in education promotes understanding of diversity and can lead to the elimination of cultural and religious conflicts. It is ideal, but realistically speaking, it is difficult for teachers to be aware of all cultures, traditions, heritages, and so forth, and change their cultural perspectives from attending a few multicultural classes.

Many teachers in teaching about other cultures unintentionally spread stereotypes because they really do not understand the culture or the history behind that culture. The time and energy required to promote cultural diversity is a difficult task, especially since the teacher already has a full load to worry about. I agree strongly that culturally different students need teachers who believe in their potential. A teacher who is farsighted enough to provide encouragement to culturally diverse students can make a real difference in their lives. Strong has presented a compelling message to be conveyed to all children:

As your teacher, I will do everything in my power to teach you that effort leads to success, that the circle of poverty can be broken, that education can help break down the color barriers, that what you do now can pay dividends, and that you are Somebody (p. 2).